Softwoods and You
Softwoods. These woods get overlooked a lot because they are deemed not as durable or stable as hardwoods. The softwoods types are actually pretty limited when compared to the thousands of hardwoods. With the softwoods we are really only looking at 100 or fewer species. In this episode I dive deep into the structure of softwoods. I start with a look at the botanical families and then look closely at the major players: Pines, Cedars, Cypress, Yew, Spruce, Fir, and some weirdos dating back to the dinosaurs. Plus I declare my softwood dark horse that everyone should try to work at least once. Come along and learn how more about softwoods. Maybe not so soft after all.
Firstly, no pores. This is the key differentiator between hardwood and softwood species. This also accounts for the lack of heartwood and the pretty uniform pale color all softwoods have as compared to the colorful hardwoods. Some species do have resin canals but they are NOT pores. Moreover not every species has these resin canals.
95% of the tree is compose of tracheids which can best be described as the long fibers or the "meat" of the tree. Without the interruptions of pores, the tracheids can make for very structurally sounds boards which is why so many softwoods are the staple in the construction trade. With really a single structural element the density variance from early to late wood can be quite minimal in some species giving them that uniform texture and workability. But some softwood species exhibit a strong density and size change of the tracheid from season to season making for striking appearances of heavily grained wood. But these can also be touch to work with such a dramatic hardness difference from one growth ring to the next.
Here are the botanical families for softwoods. As you can see we are mostly concerend with the Pinaceae family but there are some gems to be found elsewhere too that really defy common conceptions about how a softwood works.